MASACCIO (1402-1429), Italian painter. Tommaso Guidi, son of a notary, Ser Giovanni di Simone Guidi, of the family of the Scheggia, who had property in Castel S. Giovanni di Val d'Arno, was born in 1402 (according to Milanesi, on the 21st of December 1401), and acquired the nickname of Masaccio, which may be translated " Lubberly Tom," in consequence of his slovenly dressing and deportment. From childhood he showed a great inclination for the arts of design, and he is said to have studied under his contemporary Masolino da Panicale. In 1421, or perhaps 1423, he was enrolled in the gild of the speziali (druggists) in Florence, in 1424 in the gild of painters. His first attempts in painting were made in Florence, and then in Pisa. Next he went to Rome, still po doubt very young; although the statement that he returned from Rome to Florence, in 1420, when only eighteen or nineteen, seems incredible, considering the works he undertook in the papal city. These included a series of frescoes still extant in a chapel of the church of S. Clemente, a Crucifixion, and scenes from the life of St Catherine and of St Clement, or perhaps some other saint. Though much inferior to his later productions, these paintings are, for naturalism and propriety of representation, in advance of their time. Some critics, however, consider that the design only, if even that, was furnished by Masaccio, and the execution left to an inferior hand; this appears highly improbable, as Masaccio, at his early age, can scarcely have held the position of a master laying out work for subordinates; indeed Vasari says that Lubberly Tom was held in small esteem at all times of his brief life. In the Crucifixion subject the group of the Marys is remarkable; the picture most generally admired is that of Catherine, in the presence of Maxentius, arguing against and converting eight learned doctors. After returning to Florence, Masaccio was chiefly occupied in painting in the church of the Carmine, and especially in that " Brancacci Chapel " which he has rendered famous almost beyond rivalry in the annals of painting.
The chapel had been built early in the 15th century by Felice Michele di Piuvichese Brancacci, a noble Florentine. Masaccio's work in it began probably in 1423, and continued at intervals until he finally quitted Florence in 1428. There is a whole library-shelf of discussion as to what particular things were done by Masaccio and what by Masolino, and long afterwards by Filippino Lippi, in the Brancacci Chapel, and also as to certain other paintings by Masaccio in the Carmine. He began with a trial piece, a majestic figure of St Paul, not in the chapel; this has perished. A monochrome of the Procession for the Consecration of the Chapel, regarded as a wonderful example, for that early period, of perspective and of grouping, has also disappeared; it contains portraits of Brunelleschi, Donatello and many others. In the cloister of the Carmine was discovered in recent years a portion of a fresco by Masaccio representing a procession ; but this, being in colours and not in monochrome, does not appear to be the Brancacci procession. As regards the works in the Brancacci chapel itself, the prevalent opinion now is that Masolino, who used to be credited with a considerable portion of them, did either nothing, or at most the solitary compartment which represents St Peter restoring Tabitha to life, and the same saint healing a cripple. The share which Filippino Lippi bore in the work admits of little doubt; to him are due various items on which the fame of Masaccio used principally to be based as for instance the figure of St Paul addressing Peter in prison, which Raphael partly appropriated ; and hence it may be observed that an eloquent and often-quoted outpouring of Sir Joshua Reynolds in praise of Masaccio ought in great part to be transferred to Filippino. What Masaccio really painted in the chapel appears with tolerable certainty to be as follows, and is ample enough to sustain the high reputation he has always enjoyed: (i) The " Temptation of Adam and Eve "; (2) " Peter and the Tribute-Money "; (3) The " Expulsion from Eden"; (4) "Peter Preaching"; (5) "Peter Baptizing"; (6) " Peter Almsgiving "; (7) " Peter and John curing the Sick "; (8) " Peter restoring to Life the Son of King Theophilus of Antioch " was begun by Masaccio, including the separate incident of " Peter Enthroned," but a large proportion is by Filippino; (9) the double subject already allotted to Masolino may perhaps be by Masaccio, and in that case it must have been one of the first in order of execution. A few words may be given to these pictures individually, (i) The " Temptation " shows a degree of appreciation of nude form, corresponding to the feeling of the antique, such as was at that date unexampled in painting. (2) The " Tribute-Money," a full, harmonious and expressive composition, contains a head reputed to be the portrait of Masaccio himself one of the apostles, with full locks, a solid resolute countenance and a pointed beard. (3) The " Expulsion " was so much admired by Raphael that, with comparatively slight modifications, he adopted it as his own in one of the subjectsof the Logge of the Vatican. (5) " Peter Baptizing " contains some nude figures of strong naturalistic design ; that of the young man, prepared for the baptismal ceremony, who stands half-shivering in the raw air, has always been a popular favourite and an object of artistic study. (8) The restoration of the young man to life has been open to much discussion as to what precise subject was in view, but the most probable opinion is that the legend of King Theophilus was intended.
In 1427 Masaccio was living in Florence with his mother, then for the second time a widow, and with his younger brother Giovanni, a painter of no distinction; he possessed nothing but debts. In 1428 he was working, as we have seen, in the Brancacci chapel. Before the end of that year he disappeared from Florence, going, as it would appear, to Rome, to evade the importunities of creditors. Immediately afterwards, in 1429, when his age was twenty-seven or twenty-eight, he was reported dead. Poisoning by jealous rivals in art was rumoured, but of this nothing is known. The statement that several years afterwards, in 1443, he was buried in the Florentine Church of the Carmine, without any monument, seems to be improbable, and to depend upon a confused account of the dates, which have now, after long causing much bewilderment, been satisfactorily cleared up from extant documents.
It has been said that Masaccio introduced into painting the plastic boldness of Donatello, and carried out the linear perspective of Paolo Uccello and Brunelleschi (who had given him practical instruction), and he was also the first painter who made some considerable advance in atmospheric perspective. He was the first to make the architectural framework of his pictures correspond in a reasonable way to the proportions of the figures. In the Brancacci chapel he painted with extraordinary swiftness. The contours of the feet and articulations in his pictures are imperfect; and his most prominent device for giving roundness to the figures (a point in which he made a great advance upon his predecessors) was a somewhat mannered way of putting the high lights upon the edges. His draperies were broad and easy, and his landscape details natural, and superior to his age. In fact, he led the way in representing the objects of nature correctly, with action, liveliness and relief. Soon after his death, his work was recognized at its right value, and led to notable advances; and all the greatest artists of Italy, through studying the Brancacci chapel, became his champions and disciples.
Of the works attributed to Masaccio in public or private galleries hardly any are authentic. The one in the Florentine Academy, the " Virgin and Child in the Lap of St Anna," is an exception. The so-called portrait of Masaccio in the Uffizi Gallery is more probably Filippino Lippi ; and Filippino, or Botticelli, may be the real author of the head, at first termed a Masaccio, in the National Gallery, London.
An early work on Masaccio was that of T. Patch, Life with Engravings (Florence, 1770-1772). See Layard, The Brancacci Cltapel, etc. (1868); H. Eckstein, Life of Masaccio, Giotto, etc. (1882); Charles Yriarte, Tommaso dei Guidi (1894). (W. M. R.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)